Intellectual Property in an Interconnected Digital World
The concept of intellectual property, copyrights, and patents has been around for many years. The ancient Greeks had already started to attribute authorship of works to individuals. The purpose is to encourage people to make new inventions by rewarding them with the exclusive right to "own" their ideas. Laws have been made to prohibit people from taking other people's ideas unlawfully (i.e., stealing) and in general, these laws have been successful in preventing the crime before it is done, and punishing the criminals after it is done. However, in recent years, the new phenomena of the Internet and digital technology will change both the concept of intellectual property and its regulations.
The Internet and digital technology has made it easier than ever to exchange information between any two points across the globe. It enables everyone to publish their ideas instantly to a world-wide audience. While it is a great revolution that has brought a whole new world of possibilities to humankind, it also poses a threat to the intellectual property laws as it allows anyone to easily obtain any information, including copyrighted materials, without even taking so much effort as to leave their bedrooms. On this essay, I am going to discuss this issue in general and analyze a specific case of music file sharing over the Internet.
The Internet and Digital Technology
Intellectual property such as a design of a machine, a new algorithm, or a music composition has always taken the media of a physical substance. For example, a design would take the form of a blueprint; an algorithm would be a part of a thesis paper; and a music composition would be either written on a piece of paper or recorded on a cassette. Taking any of these ideas is very likely to involve taking the media, which makes it parallel to taking a physical object. It is not hard to prove that an object belongs to its rightful owner, and therefore, it is not much more difficult to tell when someone takes other people's physical property. In other words, it is relatively easy to tell if someone is stealing an intellectual property when stealing a physical object is involved.
It is also very easy to see a violation of intellectual property law when someone makes an obvious effort that shows his intention of stealing. If a person joins a high tech company to be part of the chip design team and then five months later leaves the company to join a competitor which suddenly releases a similar product with a similar bug, it will not be long until the former company files a trade secret lawsuit against that person. Even though we cannot see or prove the actual action of stealing, we are able to deduct that that person is stealing just by observing what he did.
These factors that help us determine if a violation has been committed are useless in the new realm of the Internet and digital technology. Once...